Esteemed members of the Parish Councils,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
Both in the United States and in more and more nations throughout the world the emergence of the Coronavirus has created a situation that is altering our normal way of life. Everyone is being tested, even those of us who have faith in God’s mercy. As Christians we are called to something more, to demonstrate this faith through our patience and love for one another, especially the vulnerable among us. The Church has always respected and valued persons gifted with the grace of healing. We should listen those entrusted with guarding public health. Even as we know that God can and does work wonders, we also know that we should never “put God to the test.”
Yesterday, 12 March 2020, I convened an extraordinary teleconference session of the Eparchial Council of our Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas in order to evaluate the present situation, and make recommendations regarding the spiritual life of our communities in those places effected by the epidemic. We would like to share with you the following information:
Presently, the situation in the United States is: 41 have died and over 1,600 persons have been infected (the report of the CDC as of 03/13/2020). The virus is in 47 states, including the District of Columbia, and the most affected areas are in Washington State (the Seattle area) with over 457 sickened, New York State (NYC) with 328, and the State of California (primarily Santa Clara) with 198 cases.
As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at the Federal level, as well as the agencies of the states most effected by COVID-19, have adopted steps to follow.
After consulting the members of the Eparchial Council, we are offering the following spiritual guidelines for the parishes under the jurisdiction of our Metropolia, in the United States, as well as in the nations of Latin America:
- First of all, we urge all of you: clergy, monastics, and faithful, to direct your firm prayers to our Savior Jesus Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies, and to ask for the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos, and all the Saints, to preserve and defend us against this epidemic. We should similarly pray for all those infected and their families, as well as the medical teams engaged in caring for those sick;
- You should also add to the services, at the Litany of Fervent Supplication, special petitions in times of epidemic illness, as is found at the back of the Liturghierul. And, in those places where there are Holy Relics, you should bless the faithful with the Reliquary in which these Holy Relics have been placed;
- The faithful should sign themselves daily, with the sign of the Cross, as well as their children, along with signing the Cross over their food and drink;
- We recommend that as soon as possible the Mystery of Holy Unction be celebrated in every parish of our Metropolia. The faithful should then take the Oil they receive from this Mystery and anoint themselves and their children daily, for the healing of their souls and bodies, with the sign of the Cross on their forehead, throat, and hands;
- Each morning, before one has eaten, the faithful should take from the anaphora and drink from their reserve of Holy Water, and also sprinkle their homes in the sign of the Cross. We urge the parishes to prepare the Holy Bread (Prescura) as hygienically as possible, as well as the Anaphora (Antidoron) for distribution to the faithful. A person specially designated by the priest should be the only one who prepares the Anaphora wearing gloves in order to distribute it to those present;
- The faithful should have faith that each time they partake of the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ our Savior, this is for the healing of soul and body;
- One should pray the Lord’s Prayer as often as possible, as well as the Jesus Prayer: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us and your world, with our thoughts directed to all those suffering or who are seized by anxiety and fear;
- Each WEDNESDAY EVENING, at 9pm EDT; 8pm CDT, and 6pm PST, until this pandemic passes, the clergy and the faithful of the parishes of our Metropolia are asked to read the Paraklesis to the Theotokos in their homes.
In addition to the spiritual direction given above, we also have some general guidelines that are extremely necessary in order to combat this pandemic:
- A notice — in both English and Romanian — should be placed at the entrance to the Church with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations for preventing becoming ill with the Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 (thorough hand and face washing with soap and water, covering mouth and nose for those coughing or sneezing, frequent disinfecting of objects and surfaces, maintain “social” distances of 6ft between persons, etc.). Please find attached the materials and recommendations. Detailed measures that can be taken may be found on the CDC site.
- At the parish level, when possible, there should be consultation with competent medical personnel to identify appropriate measures to prevent the spread of Novel Coronavirus (i.e., persons who appear to have a cold, should be advised to stay at home; a recommendation by the priest to persons suspected of having the flu or this virus who regularly come to Church, to seek medical attention; to disinfect the accesses and hallways of the facility and to air-out the Church and building), also to disinfect the liturgical area before and after each service;
- A place at the entrance of the Church should be designated for persons to sanitize their hands, with a proper product;
- Measures established by the civil authorities should be respected and cooperated with, at the same time assuring religious liberty for the faithful to participate in the liturgical life of the Church and to receive religious assistance in the church and their homes. The CDC has created a set of regulations for religious organizations to prepare for and manage this pandemic. We ask you to review all of these measures at the link.
- Where possible, the Parishes should establish a weekly program where the priests might be able to respond to all the requests of the faithful for Confession, Communion, and various prayers, in order to lessen the crowding of faithful in the Church;
- Toward the end of the service, before the Dismissal, special prayers should be read for repentance, cessation of the present epidemic, for the recovery of those ill, and for the spiritual strengthening of medical teams and the persons working for preventing and combating the epidemic.
Before the Dismissal of either the Divine Liturgy, Vespers, or Compline, the priest says: Let us Pray to the Lord! The faithful respond: Lord have mercy! Then the priest, facing east, reads this prayer on the solea:
Lord our God, You who are rich in mercy, and with careful wisdom direct our lives, listen to our prayer, receive our repentance for our sins, bring an end to this new infectious disease, this new epidemic, just as you averted the punishment of your people in the time of David the King. You who are the Doctor of our souls and bodies, grant restored health to those who have been seized by this illness, raising them from their bed of suffering, so that they might glorify You, Merciful Savior, and to those who are healthy keep them from every sickness. By your grace, Lord, bless, strengthen, and preserve, all those who out of love and sacrifice care for the sick, either in their homes or in the hospitals. Remove all sickness and suffering from your people, and teach us to value life and health as gifts from You. Give us Your peace, O God, and fill our hearts with unflinching faith in Your protection, hope in Your help, and love for You and our neighbor. For Yours it is to have mercy on us and save us, O our God, and to You we give glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever, to the ages of ages. The faithful respond: Amen.
- We would suggest that the parish priests and members of the parish councils collaborate with other Orthodox churches in their area, the Honorary Consuls of Romania, and other associations and foundations in the creation of committees to assist the elderly in their respective communities who might be living alone, as well as those with compromised immune systems who might become isolated in their homes. We know from CDC information that the elderly and persons with compromised immunity are advised to limit their exposure to the public, in stores, public spaces of all types, buses, trains, etc. Similarly, the CDC recommends voluntary home quarantining for other persons, who seem to be perfectly healthy, if it is presumed that they have come in contact with a possibly infected person. After they have contacted their family physician for a personalize action plan, and the person if cannot leave their home, or has the need for deliveries of necessities, these committees could be of help. We also suggest that the priest regularly contact by telephone persons in the parish over 65, checking on them, and responding to whatever they might need, and ensuring them that they are remembered in our prayers at the Divine Liturgy and the other Holy Services.
- Religious Education Classes should not be suspended, but the parish priest in collaboration with the director of parish religious education and the teachers should take special care to ensure that the spaces have been sanitized and measure implement to guarantee the children’s safety
- The clergy do not have the blessing to grant interviews to the press. Rather, they should direct all these inquiries to official communications from the Metropolia.
Finally, we again urge you to pray. Pray for those who are sick. Pray for those who are ministering to them. Pray for those who have been entrusted with directing this effort to contain and eliminate this illness, in the government and public health organizations. Pray for the medical researchers and the doctors who are searching for a vaccine. Pray for those who are frightened, and who need us to console them. And, we should pray for one another!
God, who is merciful and loving, will not abandon us. He will, as He always has, rescue and comfort us!
With Hierarchical blessing and concern,
† Archbishop and Metropolitan Nicolae
Photo courtesy of Basilica.ro